“I can’t breathe,” I said.
“Stop it, Michael, you’re always so dramatic,” my beautiful girlfriend said.
“No, I’m serious. It’s this air. It’s this weather. I can feel the whole world closing in on me.”
“Are you done?” she asked. “We’re going to be late.”
My beautiful girlfriend gazed into the mirror above our bathroom sink and pouted her lips together, checking her lipstick. She tore off a small corner of toilet paper and blotted the excess. She always wore too much lipstick, but I still thought she was sexy as hell.
“Are you going to wear that tie?” she asked.
As if having to wear a tie at all for a few rounds of drinks — excuse me, cocktails — weren’t enough, I had to make sure it was the right tie. The right tie to match my gray sports jacket and white dress shirt. The right tie to match my perfectly shined shoes and newly banded watch. The right tie to match my beautiful girlfriend.
She’d been beautiful since the day I’d met her, when we were both waiting in line at a tacky Chinese restaurant on Fifth Street. Their takeout service was notoriously slow, but God, that chow mein and those egg rolls were worth it. Crunchy and a little greasy, the way good Chinese food ought to be.
She was in back of me in line, wearing a soft green dress that gathered at her waist and clung to her hips. Her hair was pulled back on the top of her head, but a few pieces were hanging in her face and it was all I could do not to reach out to her, a stranger, and brush them away.
“Jesus,” she had whispered. “Who do you have to screw to get some service around here?” I could feel her breath on my neck, sweet and warm and enough to make me want to answer Me, screw me, screw me.
She was beautiful then and she was beautiful now and she was wearing the short, tight black skirt as I knew she would.
“God, I love you in that skirt,” I whispered.
“Why can’t you love me no matter what I’m wearing?”
“Oh, I love you out of that skirt too.”
She walked out of the bathroom, glancing around the bedroom to locate her perfume. That smell — I never stood a chance when she put it on. She smelled like jasmine, ocean, and summertime when she wore that perfume. How could she want to go out with Peter and Kendra when we could stay in tonight, just the two of us? Maybe order some Chinese food, rent a movie…
She was looking at me again, growing increasingly impatient as I fumbled with my tie.
“I can’t fucking breathe,” I told her. “And this tie isn’t exactly helping.”
“You should wear the one I gave you for your birthday last year.”
Never mind that it was actually my belated birthday — my much-belated 28th birthday. She never could remember dates, just as she had a way of forgetting most of the plans I made for us.
She stood directly in front of me, almost but not quite touching me, handing me the new tie. She was headed for the mirror again. Sometimes it was best to keep my mouth shut.
We arrived at the bar late. Peter and Kendra didn’t seem all that displeased. In fact, they seemed downright plastered, and Happy Hour had just begun.
Kendra acknowledged me with glossy eyes, wearing a halter top so low cut she may as well have not been wearing a shirt at all. Peter looked overdressed as usual, in a stiff navy suit and even stiffer hair.
“Mikey!” Peter gushed. “Helluva game last night, huh?”
“You mean the Lakers?” I asked hopefully.
“No, Mikey! Blackhawks and Avalanche!”
“Oh. Uh, I don’t really watch hockey.”
Peter shook his head at me as if I were the saddest man alive. “Oh, Mikey,” he said. “What are we going to do with you?”
My beautiful girlfriend laughed as if Peter were the funniest man alive, before turning to Kendra and saying, “What was with that outfit Lilly was wearing today?”
“Oh, I know!” Kendra said. “I mean, polka dots? What are we, twelve?”
“How did she ever get a job working at a fashion magazine?” my girlfriend asked.
“Well, she’s just an intern,” Kendra said.
“You know, I caught the second half of the Lakers game too,” Peter suddenly announced.
I was only half interested at this point, but it was either talk basketball with Peter or polka dots with the girls. “It was pretty scary there toward the end,” I said.
Peter grew somber. “It was a tense third quarter, that’s for sure. I didn’t quite know if we’d pull through.”
He closed his eyes and bowed his head — closed his eyes and bowed his head! — before rubbing his temples and reopening his eyes, suddenly ecstatic. “Drink?”
I looked to my girlfriend, hoping she would have noticed. I wanted to roll my eyes at her, the way we used to roll our eyes about Peter behind his back. I remembered so many drunken nights, back from the bar, lying in bed with her and making her laugh as I did my near-perfect Peter impression. The smell of liquor floating from our breaths, the alcohol in my brain swishing around as she nuzzled her body closer to mine, both of us tired and sweaty and drunk, the way she’d trace her fingers along the inside of my arm, giving me chills and wanting her so much, so much…but tonight she wasn’t meeting my eyes, already onto her martini and Lilly-bashing with Kendra.
I loosened my tie. I looked past Peter, past the rows of pricey liqueurs that lined the back shelf of the bar, to the window. The air was heavy and dark and low clouds were growing. “If you could describe the weather as if it were an emotion, what would you say?” an old professor had asked once. I couldn’t remember what subject he taught — philosophy? Psychology? — but I always remembered that stupid question.
“Bitterness,” I said.
“What’s that, Mikey? What did you say?”
Peter was the only person in my entire life who called me Mikey.
My girlfriend was looking at me with vague disapproval, maybe a bit of embarassment as well. Her porcelain skin looked smooth and soft in the dim bar lighting. I hadn’t realized I was speaking out loud. But now that I’d said it, I was glad. “This weather reminds me of bitterness,” I said. Peter wasn’t following my train of thought and my girlfriend and Kendra were already back to their martinis.
A man near the back of the bar was wearing all black and had greasy, shiny hair and greasy, shiny skin. He was balding and overweight and his jacket was too tight for him. He looked as though he could explode at any moment. A server was waiting on him, a new girl with long blonde hair and a frazzled face. She seemed too young to serve alcohol and her pale skin looked washed out in the soft lighting. The shiny man kept trying to touch her as she walked by. She set his drink on the absolute corner of the table. But he reached for her, wanting to put his sweaty hands on her. She smiled politely and stepped away.
I had a sudden urge to punch him. Maybe I would have too, if I had a few drinks in me, but as usual my party was drinking me under the table as I sat nursing my first. I wondered what it would be like. Would my fist slide in the greasiness of his skin? Get caught in the overweight pouch of his belly? Maybe it was best that I’d only had one gin and tonic.
“Michael,” my girlfriend was whispering, as she tapped her newly manicured nails on the corner of the table. “Michael, will you go get the waitress? I think she forgot us.”
My party was often unwilling to wait the five extra minutes it would take for our waitress to “remember” us and come get our order.
“I think she’s busy,” I said.
“Mikey,” Peter began. I didn’t wait to hear more.
I ventured to the back of the bar to find our elusive waitress, struggling to keep track of who wanted the blue cheese stuffed olives and whose scotch needed to be at least twelve years old. Standing at that bar, I found myself craving a Pabst Blue Ribbon from my early college years.
“Can I help you?” It was her, the young and frazzled one, and she was even more young and frazzled up close. Her big blue eyes were wide and tired. Beads of perspiration were forming near her hairline, matting down pieces of her dull blonde hair. Her apron had loosened and was sloppily falling down her waist. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand while looking at me, almost desperately, waiting for me to tell her what the hell I wanted.
I said something about the people at our table needing more drinks and did she know where Carla was and she said she would find out and then she disappeared behind those swinging doors they always seem to have in places like this. She emerged a few moments later and flashed me a hasty smile that said I was already busy and you just made me a lot busier, but you’re a customer and I have to smile at you so here’s your damn smile. I reluctantly smiled back, hating this stupid bar.
Carla was — as I had suggested — busy helping another table. The new girl said I could sit at the bar and wait for Carla or I could go back to the table or I could just give her my order — her name tag said Greta — and she would take care of everything for me. She looked at me with her huge blue eyes, shifting her weight from left to right as she reached behind her to retie her falling apron. She looked like she’s had the longest night of her life. I wanted to hand her a towel, or a comb, or something.
“I guess I’ll just go back to the table then,” I said. Greta looked relieved.
Her manager called her over to behind the bar, where he stood waiting.
I glanced at my table and caught a glimpse of my girlfriend, plucking an olive from her martini glass and popping in into her mouth. Then she thrust her head back and laughed a deep, throaty laugh. God, she was sexy. I tried to remember the last time I’d seen her laugh like that.
Greta’s manager was still talking to her. I couldn’t catch what he was saying, but he looked angry. He kept gesturing as Greta stared toward her feet.
Greasy Balding Overweight Man got up from his seat and walked out the door, waddling almost. The crumpled bills he’d left sprawled on Greta’s table amounted to a total of $3. Greta was still talking to her manager and it looked like she would be awhile. I meant to toss a $5 bill on the table. Only I ended up grabbing a $20 bill instead. I thought about correcting the mistake, but then thought, Screw it.
Peter’s hand was on my shoulder now.
“Mikey,” he said. “Just making my way to the old bano.”
“I see,” I replied. “Well, don’t let me stop you.”
He pointed his fingers at me, the way some guys do as if they’re pointing a fucking gun at your face. One flick of the index finger and pow, you’ve been shot.
He continued to the bathroom. I wished I had a gun.
I made my way back to the table. My girlfriend asked me where the fuck our drinks were and I told her we would have to wait.
“They’re really slow tonight,” my girlfriend said. Kendra agreed and then the two of them got into a discussion about the decline in service in today’s society. I thought about being home in my pajamas. I looked at Kendra and wondered if I’d have to drive her home again tonight.
“Help you?” It was Carla, our regular server. She’d been working here for years and the lines around her eyes and mouth seemed to get deeper with each passing day. Her shoulder length brown hair was youthfully braided, but her posture was hunched and she always looked tired.
“Did you forget about us, Carla?” my girlfriend asked.
“I’ve been taking some tables for Greta,” Carla said.
“Who?” my girlfriend asked. “Can I get another martini?”
“The new girl,” I said, but my girlfriend didn’t hear.
“Why can’t she take her own tables?” Kendra asked.
“She’s a little, uh, busy right now,” Carla said as she gestured toward Greta and her manager. He was growing increasingly animated as Greta continued to stare at the floor.
Carla went back toward the bar, stopping to clear Greasy Balding Overweight Man’s table. As she pocketed the $23, I rose out of my chair.
“No, that’s — I mean, that’s not for — I mean — “
God, no. I wanted this night to end.
“Mikey, did you order us some more drinks?” Peter asked.
“Uh, I think they’re on their way. I just need — “
I didn’t know what I was saying anymore, only knew that I needed to get out of that place with its blue cheesed stuffed olives and impossible lighting. I walked out the back door, into the open air. I loosened my tie, then took the whole thing off and threw it to the ground.
Then I saw her, crouched by the side of the building, tears streaming down her face. Her arms were clasped around her knees and she was rocking back and forth slowly. Traces of mascara ran down the corner of her eyes, streaming down her cheeks. Her eyelashes matted together, dewy and clumpy.
She didn’t look up. She just kept crying and rocking. She was framed by the grimy gray clouds and I found myself thinking she was the most fragile thing I had ever seen. Then I was kneeling on the ground, toward her, taking her into my arms and letting her cry on my shoulder. She dug her hands into the back of my shirt and continued to cry and rock back and forth and we just sat there, like that, for God knows how long, until at last there were no tears and all that was left was for me to help her up and walk her to her car.
I closed the door behind her once she was seated behind the wheel. She started the engine and put her car in reverse, backing out slowly from the tight corner parking spot. And then she shifted gears and drove down the street and away from this God awful place and away from me. And I stood there in that parking lot, breathing in the cold night air and thinking what a damn idiot I was.
I relocated my party in the bar. My girlfriend asked me where the fuck I had been and what the hell had taken so long and what did I do with my tie and why did I smell like cigarettes and rain? I took my beautiful girlfriend’s hand in my own and kept my mouth shut until it was time to go, thinking what a damn idiot I was.
Where do I begin when there is so much to say about this beautiful and amazing human being. Our relationship may only be 4 weeks old at this point but I have felt a connection with this girl that I haven’t felt with anyone else. She makes me feel like the happiest and the luckiest girl in the world and I know for a fact that I am the luckiest girl to be able to call her mine.
I used to think relationships were gross and just a way to make other (single) people feel bitter about themselves. That was until I met this girl. We met at university where we are on the same course, but believe it or not we only started really getting to know each other a few weeks before the first year of university was over.
We never had any of the same classes together so if we were to meet it would be when we were passing by each other in the hallway or if we happened to be hanging out with mutual friends.
Before I met Nadia I had been seeing this girl for just over 3 months. To begin with I thought it was everything I wanted and needed. I seriously thought I had hit the jackpot and that she was the most perfect girl in the world. We had one of those relationships where we wouldn’t take ourselves or each other seriously so it was all just one big laugh. I remember telling people, including Nadia, that I really liked this girl. However it did not have a happy ending and I do admit I was devastated by it. I didn’t know how she could go from telling me that she really cared about me to breaking it off with me over night the day after my birthday. I was gutted, I would start thinking about everything I could have done to make her change her mind. In reality it was nothing to do with me, I guess it just wasn’t right for her and after a while I began to get over that. It turns out that a relationship that I thought was perfect was actually quite toxic. I wasn’t being myself as I had to hide any problems I was going through to make sure we maintained that aspect of humour that we based our relationship off. This was making me suffer without me even realising it until after it had all ended.
I was going through a really tough time trying to get myself back on track and trying to focus mainly on myself now after putting all of my attention and energy into somebody else. This was when I started to get close to Nadia through our mutual friends on the course. Straight away I knew that we were going to be close, I wasn’t quite sure in what way as we didn’t really know a lot about each other, but I still knew that we would begin to hang out more. There was something about Nadia that made me forget all of the horrible things I had been through and instead whenever I was around her there would be a genuine smile on my face for the majority of our time together. I could tell her anything and know that she would never judge me. I genuinely started to care for this girl and wanted to get to know her even better. Plus she is hella cute so that is just a bonus!
From then on we started to get closer and closer until I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to feel broken inside because this beautiful angel had managed to help me fix myself back together. I knew that being around this girl made me the happiest I had felt in a long time as I didn’t have to worry about hiding my true self from her like I did before. Because of this I knew I wanted to prove to her how much I appreciate and care about her and that I really wanted to spend even more time with her. I asked her to be my girlfriend on Friday 20th May 2016 and thankfully she said yes. I must add this came as no surprise to our course mates who had be wanting us to get together ever since we started hanging out.
Nadia my short time with you so far has honestly made me realise how lucky I am to have you in my life and I hope that you are in my life for many, many more years to come. I hope that I can put a smile on your face the way you do for me. I hope I can always be there to say the right thing when you are feeling down to make you feel even the tiniest bit happier. You are the most perfect girl in the world to me and I will do anything to show you how much mean it. I want you to know that no matter what time of night or morning if you need me I will be there. I wish I could show you how perfect you are to me through my eyes and I wish you could see how happy you make me through my mother’s eyes. My mum asked me a question the other day, she asked “do you think this is love?” This is the first time mum had ever asked me a question about the big L word before but I knew that she already knew the answer I was going to give her. I told my mum that I did love you and that I plan on loving you for a very long time, she just looked at me and smiled then said “I am glad you have found someone who is able to put a smile on your face even when we can’t”.
I don’t know if you know how much you mean to me but I am going to live every second of my life trying to prove to you how much you really do. I know it may be hard at times with family but I want you to know that I would wait forever for you, as long as you are happy. You are so strong and so beautiful and you have just a beautiful and loving personality, you take your time to make sure everyone else is okay and I want you to know that now it is my turn. I have always got your back Nadia.
I love you so much, and I cannot wait for all of our future plans and adventures. I am one happy girl with you around. I have finally found my fairy tale Princess Charming!